The future for Tobias Sammet lies with Edguy. Those words came straight from the man's own mouth when he spoke to this very publication a few weeks ago.
With no plans for any future releases from his other project – the sprawling series of Avantasia Metal operas – his writing has been purely concentrated on Edguy for some time now, and the first fruits of this narrowing of horizons come to us in the form of the bands ninth studio outing, 'Age Of The Joker'.
Has the decision to concentrate on the one outfit been worthwhile? Let's have a listen and see...
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Of course the answer is yes. Sammet is a master songwriter, a man who whilst indisputably Metal to the core possesses a shrewd ear for a soaring pop melody. He's not afraid to deploy these tuneful shards of loveliness either; even a song as Metallically gifted as 'Nobody's Hero' comes fully fitted out with a chorus that you'll be singing for weeks after just one listen.
Like his close musical relative Kai Hansen, Sammet is also able to half inch other people's ideas and reform them in his own style with alarming ease. Hence the gloriously anthemic 'Rock Of Cashel' skillfully morphs Jailbreak-era Thin Lizzy into classic modern day power Metal, the whole thing being strained through a filter of prime, pop Metal era Gary Moore, whilst 'Pandora's Box' channels some eighties blues-infused hair Metal (ok, its pure Aerosmith actually) into what otherwise might have been a slightly stilted hands-in-the-air euro Metal power ballad.
The overall effect with all of these little borrowings is pleasing in the extreme.
As ever, Edguy is a more straightforward beast than any of the Avantasia oeuvres; in fact you can really only envisage opener Robin Hood as being a song that might have ended up as a multi-vocalled smorgasbord of opulently over the top virtuosity. Within the parameters of Edguy Sammet is far happier to knock out utterly brilliant nuggets such as Two Out of Seven; the song is a delirious piece of radio rock that rides in on a synth riff that is pure Van Halen before culminating in a gorgeously hook-laden chorus which fades out with Sammet uttering some of the most ludicrous lyrica his ever committed to tape (which is some achievement for a man who has released a single called 'Lavatory Love Machine'...)
'Two Out Of Seven' is the album's high water mark as far as memorable songsmithery is concerned. It is also 'Age Of The Joker''s tipping point; after it fades out the rest of the album fizzles out a little. Luckily 'TOOS' is such a high point this means the fizzling still leaves Edguy operating at a higher level than most other bands can manage even at their best.
'Faces In The Darkness' fuses elements of Judas Priest and Metallica to create the most sustained period of heaviness on the album, the whole thing being topped by a marvelous solo from lead guitarist Jens Ludwig, whilst 'The Arcane Guild' gives a run out to the Rainbow and Deep Purple influences that seemingly lurk within the heart of every German power Metaller and features some more mouth watering axework from Ludwig and fellow six stringer Dirk Sauer.
It's the kind of enjoyable romp that you get the feeling Sammet knocks out in his sleep, though that doesn't make it any less worthy of your attention. Similarly, the slowburning 'Fire On The Downline' has you thinking 'late album filler' until the band unleash a marvelously dramatic guitar hook that will quite possibly make you have an accident the first time you hear it, such is the stealth with which it creeps up on you.
'FOTD' also possesses a magnificent eighties AOR chorus, which slightly goes to waste as the band fails to press home the advantage created by such an exhilarating passage of brilliance.
The band rounds 'Age Of The Joker' out with two more songs, the epically inclined 'Behind The Gates' to 'Midnight World' and the balladic 'Every Night Without You', but to be honest if you press stop after 'Fire In The Downline' you won't be missing out overly much.
Bands still, after twenty years of working in the medium, can't resist the temptation to cram as much music as they can onto a CD, and these two tracks serve only to confirm that 'fizzle' notion I mentioned earlier.
Still, to end on a negative would be a bit unfair, because this is Tobias Sammet we're talking about and, in simple terms, the man doesn't issue bad product. Like most of the Edguy albums that came before, 'Age Of The Joker' is a mix of spectacular brilliance and solid proficiency, and you'll find much to enjoy if melodic power/speed Metal gets you out of bed in the morning.